Setting the scene: The iconic symbol of the birth of Rome involves feeding -- the mythological founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were raised by wolves, literally. Romulus later kills his twin brother in a fit of one-upmanship.
Just before we left our WWOOFING gig in the Alpujarras in Spain, we bought a tin of sardines, a tin of scallops and a tin of razor clams. They were to be opened during emergenices only.
We opened the first tin in Rome.
We were placed in a B&B room near Rome Termini train station, different from the one we booked. This one had a bathroom you could barely turn around in, and a giant hole in the wall where the A/C vent was supposed to be. Cue hot air and noise from the street all night.
The only things we could see available for the catered breakfast were packets of croissants, which had a 2011 expiry date. I really don't want to know what the pastry was inundated with to give that kind of shelf life.
We knew Rome was going to be expensive, but was this really all that €50 a night was going to get us?
The next morning, the Chinese lady at front desk, upon realising that I spoke Mandarin (she had no English and I had no Italian) started ranting about how our inkeeper was "bullying" us. Apparently our original room had a damaged door -- which by this morning had been fixed -- so we should really get on the innkeeper's case and demand to be moved to our original room, instead of putting up with the tiny room that her B&B didn't even deign to rent out, but rather used only for staff to rest in during the day.
And so, in the heart of the Roman empire, counsel from the Chinese empire got us into the room we originally booked. Which, as it turns out, sleeps 3 people more than comfortably, and a kitchen full of toast, sausages, cheese, preserves and drinks for breakfast.
This happening upon our arrival in Rome sadly soured my view of the eternal city for our remaining time there. I couldn't quite shake the feeling that there was always a little something that the Romans were holding out on us. A little more on the plate. A little more information. Heck, in Julius Caesar's case, a little dagger behind the cloak.
In the case of Er Buchetto -- a 3-table hole in the wall -- near Rome Termini, it was just 1 or 2 more slices (or centimetres) of that delectable spicy grilled pork in their sandwich that would have made all the difference.
In the case of Trattoria Da Gino, a well known establishment next to the Parlianment Building frequented by politicians and journalists, it was the the minestrone I actually ordered (ie, with pasta, rather than rice). Otherwise, the lamb and osso bucco were decent bite-for-buck.
And, taking the cake, the waiter at L'Angoletto di Musei a few streets from the Vatican didn't bother to hint at what I was getting when I ordered "Angelo's special pasta". Ok, so Babs and I laughed ourselves silly once I got past the initial shock. But it goes to show.
What probably saved my blood from boiling over (figuratively and literally, given the sweltering 35 deg C afternoon heat) was Rome's gelaterias. San Crispino is the hailed as the Don of the genre in town, but my favourite (and the only real rave I have for Rome in this post) was Gelateria del Teatro, a tiny but rocketing up-and-comer with a mind-blowing watermelon granita. That unmistakeable chilled-ripe-watermelon scent of chlorophyll with a just a tinge of nectar is what I imagine rain in heaven will smell like. Stefano and Silvia, the husband-and-wife team that run the joint, use only natural and seasonal ingredients, sometimes hauled in by Stefano himself from the market on bicycle. All gelato is made in small batches onsite, and you won't get any hassle if you poke your head in the back to see what's in progress.
Above: Babs and I both go for grapefruit sorbet at San Crispino, I balance it out with melon while Babs tarts it up further with raspberry; A cup of watermelon heaven from Gelateria del Teatro
Right now, that watermelon granita might the only reason I would go back to Rome. Otherwise, it just felt like the city was using its ancient and religious sites to milk visitors, without much ongoing investment into striving to provide value for money or excellence in hospitality. Resting on its laurels, as it were.
Via del Viminale 2F (near Termini station)
Trattoria Da Gino
Vicolo Rosini 4
Rome 00186, Italy
+39 06 6873434
L'Angoletto ai Musei
Via Leone IV, 2A
Rome 00192, Italy
+39 06 39723187
Il Gelato de San Crispino
Via Panetteria 42
Gelateria del Teatro
Via di San Simone 70
Rome 00186, Italy
+39 06 45474880